From her quick mind to her signature laugh, Jean Enright has spent 17 years putting her mark on Grand Valley. The executive assistant to two presidents is retiring from full-time active duty this summer; but, as seems appropriate for Jean she'll keep her hands in a few projects to ease the transition. She and Grand Valley Magazine's Mary Eileen Lyon talked about her time at Grand Valley, including her initial days with the all-male triad at the top.
GVM: Everyone can see changes at Grand Valley, but how do you describe them?
Enright: Most obviously the growth in numbers, but also a growth in quality of the academic programs and the depth of experiences students have. We see more top students choosing Grand Valley. I also hear from businesses that they value the opportunity to hire Grand Valley graduates. Also, more people in Detroit now know about Grand Valley.
GVM: That's nice for all of us.
Enright: It's especially nice for students. For a number of years we've had students from every county in Michigan, and that adds a richness to the experience.
GVM: How has your role changed?
Enright: I came here to work with President Lubbers. I performed like a chief of staff, so I was involved in lots of different things. And then as we got larger, my role changed because we began to hire people to focus on specific areas. A good example would be when we decided to start an art collection; President Lubbers and I did it.
As the collection grew, we needed an expert. When we started charter schools, I was the person in charge. When the program grew, we needed to hire somebody else. It was fun to be able to start things and then have a hand in selecting people to take charge. Since President Murray has come, I've been more focused on specific areas because by then we had people in place to do many of the broader things.
GVM: It almost sounds like a "mom and pop" shop.
Enright: That's right. I came to Grand Valley at a wonderful time when lots of things had fertile ground in which to flourish. And I was very fortunate to have people who encouraged you to take chances and stick out your neck. Everything didn't go perfectly, but we've had a lot of fun.
GVM: What brings you the most gratification?
Enright: My relationships with students. I think the thing that I've enjoyed the most, and where I have really had a chance to make a difference, is working with students.
GVM: As you look at what you've been able to accomplish, will it be tough to leave?
Enright: It's the right time for me to leave and I'm excited about what I'm going to be doing. And I know I will maintain relationships with people here whom I value. Before I came to Grand Valley, I had worked for Grand Rapids Public Schools for 16 years and those people are still my dearest friends. I'll miss being part of the institution, being identified with Grand Valley. That's been an honor for me. Everyone says you should have a plan, and I don't. But I can't imagine being bored. I've never been bored. I don't even know what the feeling would be like. I'm going to spend some time in Nova Scotia this fall and then I'm going to spend three months in Italy. I think by then I will have a routine and I'll know what I need to do.
GVM: Why is this the right time?
Enright: I love driving to work everyday. I honestly think how fortunate I am, but I don't have a job that lends itself to flexibility. That was a big piece of it, but it's just time in terms of my age. I'll be 65 in December.
GVM: What will you miss the most?
Enright: With the kind of job I have, there aren't benchmarks people see. I'm sure some people wonder what I do. I've always set specific goals for myself in this job and I've enjoyed meeting them.
GVM: Where would you like to see Grand Valley be in five years?
Enright: I do agree with President Murray that for right now, in terms of numbers, we're at a good place. I would like for us to continue to be a school where each student gets personal attention.
GVM: You said some might have wondered what your job actually was.
Enright: One time, Henry Matthews and I were in Saugatuck going to art galleries and it was a beautiful spring afternoon. We ran into someone we knew and she asked, "Are you working this afternoon, or are you taking the afternoon off?" And we said, "We don't know the difference. We're doing both, of course."
GVM: Your other important function has been secretary to the Board of Trustees.
Enright: We have had such an outstanding board. Most colleges and universities have a full-time person serving as a liaison, but we have such a wonderful working relationship with our board - and always have - that it actually takes a very small amount of my time, but I like it a lot.
GVM: Do you feel there are opportunities for other women on campus to continue to step into leadership roles?
Enright: I think if you look around Grand Valley, women are appointed to positions with status. Their work is valued, and they are given a lot of support. That reminds me of story. When I first came to Grand Valley and went to my first executive officers' meeting, I joined President Don Lubbers, Provost Glenn Niemeyer, and Vice President Ron VanSteeland. They had worked together for about 20 years. One of them, I wish I could remember which one, said, "Jean, we don't have to talk; we know what each other is thinking.
So if you have no idea what is going on, you should just tap us on the shoulder and say 'Wait a minute, back up, tell me what's going on. I'm here because you wanted me.'" And so there were times I had to say, "Wait a minute, I'm here because you wanted me. Tell me what's going on!" I never felt any reluctance on their part to fill me in, but they just knew each other so well and had worked together for such a long time.
GVM: When people think of Jean Enright and her contributions, what do you hope they remember?
Enright: I would like them to think that I did what I said I was going to do and that I did it well.
Page last modified March 17, 2014